Eno Sarris

Saves and Steals

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Closer Change in Arizona Again

Wednesday, July 10, 2013


Tier 4: Question marks (7) (AKA: The "Errors" Tier.)


Fernando Rodney, Tampa Bay Rays
Koji Uehara, Boston Red Sox
Jose Veras, Houston Astros
Steve Cishek, Miami Marlins
Joaquin Benoit, Detroit Tigers
Kevin Gregg, Chicago Cubs
Rafael Betancourt, Colorado Rockies


I understand the impetus with errors. We want to track good defense. We want to penalize bad defense. And so this stat is not as ridiculous as the others. But the stat creates rules that are very difficult, and very subjective, to enforce. Think about the slightly high throw that brings the first baseman to the tips of his toes (and sometimes off the bag). Think about the outfield dive, and the landing that jarred the ball loose. Think about the ball arriving to a glove, at the same time as a player. There are so many moments in baseball where it's incredibly hard to assign blame. And yet we do, and it impacts the statistics we keep, from pitcher wins to players' batting averages.


Fernando Rodney moves to the top of this tier! I'm as surprised as you, and I still own Jake McGee in a couple places. He only has five walks since the beginning of June, and if that doesn't sound impressive, he had four walks in one game in May. He hasn't blown a save since May either, and he seems to have survived the rocky stint. Even better is the knowledge that the Rays aren't likely to trade for a closer or trade their closer -- that's just not their style -- and that makes him safer than he's seemed most of this year. He's not going to help your WHIP, but he will get the Ks and SVs.


This is actually a decent little tier. In some ways, you could argue for many of these guys to be in the tier above. Koji Uehara has an elite combo of strikeout and walk rates. Joaquin Benoit has conquered his homeritis this season, apparently, and is back to being great. Steve Cishek found his control again, and Jose Veras found his control for the first time, on the back of a great first-strike rate. But that doesn't mean they don't have their question marks. Benoit could be replaced via trade, since it doesn't seem like his manager trusts him. Veras is on a bad team and has a looong history of bad control. Cishek is on a bad team. Uehara is on a team that has made three or four closer changes, depending on how you count them, and still owns the incumbent closer on the roster. Rodney is Rodney. I'd say those question marks are larger than those above. Kevin Gregg probably won't close... even in Detroit? He seems very likely to be traded, too.


Rafael Betancourt, though, is just moving through. His velocity is up a tick since he returned, but he has to prove that the wonky control -- worst of his career -- was a result of that groin situation, and not something in his arm or related to age. At least, he has to prove that to keep moving up. For now, he just has to show he's healthy to move up another tier.


Tier 5: Rollercoaster rides (5) (AKA: The "Balk" Tier.)


Chris Perez (first chair), Vinnie Pestano (second chair), Cleveland Indians
Tom Wilhelmsen (first chair), Carter Capps (second chair), Yoervis Medina (third chair), Seattle Mariners
Huston Street (first chair), Luke Gregerson (second chair), San Diego Padres
Jim Henderson (first chair), Francisco Rodriguez (second chair), Milwaukee Brewers
J.J. Putz (first chair), Heath Bell (second chair), Arizona Diamondbacks


Balks are useful. It would be very difficult to steal bases if the pitcher could halt his deliver at any time and throw to any base. I understand that we want some separation between throwing home and throwing to first. But even well-versed analysts and commentators have a hard time spotting balks and completely explaining the rule. But here we are, doomed to this nebulous cycle of pointing, yelling and then confused hand-wringing. DID HE BALK? I DON'T KNOW.


Chris Perez doesn't move up because I'm not convinced he's healthy. His fastball velocity is not back to where it was before he went down with shoulder issues and his walk rate is the second-worst of his career. He's better than this if he's healthy.


I'm convinced Huston Street is not healthy. He may say one thing, but his velocity is up and down and his whiff and strikeout rates have fallen off the map. He's had three straight clean appearances, but only one strikeout. Keep Luke Gregerson close (and even Dale Thayer in deeper leagues).


Can the Brewers trade Francisco Rodriguez already? He's not going to help them next year, and they need to get out in front of the trade market on this one. Scouts are already attending Brewers games, ready to pick the carcass. With two wild cards, true sellers are harder to find these days.


It's tempting to put J.J. Putz ahead of Heath Bell, as we have with Jim Henderson, to remind people that that's the most likely outcome. Since Putz lost his role, he's thrown 2 1/3 perfect innings and Heath Bell has pitched once and blown the save with a home run. In those outings, Putz has also shown improved velocity, velocity that lines up with his work early this season at least, if not the velocity he showed last year. Three clean outings aren't quite enough in my book, but with the way Heath Bell has looked, that might be all it takes. You know what, let's put Putz first.


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Jason Motte (elbow), St. Louis Cardinals
Joel Hanrahan (forearm), Boston Red Sox
Kyuji Fujikawa (elbow), Chicago Cubs
Sergio Santos (elbow), Toronto Blue Jays
Ryan Madson (elbow), Los Angeles Angels


Ryan Madson is ready to start his rehab assignment! Big news. Might not matter to the closer's role in Anaheim, but it's big news for him. It's taken some time. Sergio Santos wants to come back after the break.


The Deposed


Carlos Marmol, Chicago Cubs
John Axford, Milwaukee Brewers
Mitchell Boggs, St. Louis Cardinals
Brandon League, Los Angeles Dodgers


Andrew Bailey?


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The Steals Department


Last week, we reminded you that we've talked about Rajai Davis some, so this week, we'll remind you about Eric Young. And the reason for that, in particular, is that he might be moving from deep league consideration to mixed league worthiness. He's playing every day now, taking walks, getting hits, and most importantly, stealing bases. He stole a base in five straight games before last night. He's the left fielder, at least with Lucas Duda out, and there's probably a role for him once Duda returns, even. If the newly-returned Adam Eaton has more of a chance to have a role all year, with similar speed, and therefore has a higher ceiling, Eric Young has a higher floor: he's been here before, shown he can do it, and is producing now.


The outfield in Houston is a work in progress. Like a Jackson Pollock in progress. Looks like they're just throwing people against the wall and seeing who will stick. Right now, it looks like Brandon Barnes is the center fielder, most nights. And Jimmy Paredes is getting decent run, too. But Paredes is striking out too much and not running enough, while Barnes is playing good defense and has nine stolen bases on the season. (He strikes out too much too, but at least his balls in play are missing gloves.) The problem with Barnes is that the righty is decent against lefties but fairly terrible against righties. Justin Maxwell finally passed his concussion tests, and he might push Barnes into a platoon with Paredes in right. Maxwell is the most own able of the crew, but if you need steals in an AL-only type of league, they're all interesting. And super, super flawed.

Eno Sarris is an editor and writer at FanGraphs.com. You can find his work gathered in one place at and enosarris.com. Follow his misadventures in writing on Twitter as well.
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